Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Behind "Brooklyn rebounds as the new bohemia": does arena mean "Brooklyn is back" or something more complicated?

There's a telling line in Alan Ehrenhalt's recent book The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City:
The really remarkable thing about Bushwick--and perhaps a lesson for struggling neighborhoods in other parts of the country--is just how much attention an influx of at most three thousand self-identified artist was able to attract in a community of more than one hundred thousand people.
It's telling because Bushwick, and the relatively minor but well-publicized influx of galleries and cafees, represents the main example in an impossible-to-get-right overview in USA Today headlined Brooklyn rebounds as the new bohemia, which of course mentions the arena:

The arrival of the NBA Nets gives Brooklyn its first major league team since the Dodgers' departure for Los Angeles in 1957, and something else: more evidence that, as its denizens claim, the borough that was once a punch line is now the coolest place in America, a land of rooftop farms and pop-up art galleries, of haircuts, eyeglasses, hats and body piercings so chic that even Parisians utter, "Très Brooklyn!"
Actually, "cool" has been designated by magazines like GQ regarding the borough's indie food scene, then appropriated for larger reasons.

Atlantic Yards

The article describes the project thusly:
The New Jersey Nets' relocation to the new Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn is a big reason why guard Deron Williams re-signed with the team and why the league's best center, the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard, once tried to join him.
When the arena opens this fall with concerts by Jay-Z and Barbra Streisand and the first Nets' game, it will cap one of the more remarkable reversals of fortune in U.S. urban history.
Barclays is part of a planned $5 billion high-rise residential-commercial complex that community groups have criticized for abusing the power of eminent domain, uprooting residents and ripping up the neighborhood fabric.
But to Fred Siegel, a New York writer and political activist, the project says: "Brooklyn is back."
It's interesting to hear Fred Siegel quoted as saying that the Barclays Center indicates that "Brooklyn is back." I bet he said more, or would have, if they asked. Siegel also has called arena developer Bruce Ratner a "master of subsidy" and questioned whether there was any reason to provide public subsidies for the arena.

Dangerous to generalize?

The article acknowledges that "[i]t's dangerous to generalize about a borough of 2.5 million," but suggests:
Brooklyn at its best is Sesame Street: integrated playgrounds; small shops on tree-lined streets; artisanal pickles and home-made granola; bike lanes and occasional valet bike parking. Spike-haired, tattooed skateboarders zip past bearded Hassidic Jews in long black coats. Houseboats ply the once-fetid Gowanus Canal.
Why the hyper-gentrification? The article doesn't quite answer for Brooklyn as a whole, but offers these clues to Bushwick:
•New York's recovery from its 1975 fiscal crisis spurred development of new housing in Bushwick.
•The ever-rising price of Manhattan real estate forced artists east...
•Crime dropped, starting in the early '90s...
•The rezoning of Brooklyn's industrial waterfront touched off a residential land rush in neighborhoods such as Williamsburg and Greenpoint...
Unmentioned is Ehrenhalt's best explanation: Bushwick is simply the next stops along the L train from Williamsburg.

I commented that the articles didn't mention historic preservation--it does in the graphic but not the text--or immigration, which is responsible for filling in all those neighborhoods that don't qualify as "Bohemia," not to mention Bushwick itself.

Up and coming

The article offers this paragraph up top:
"People I know from London don't want to go to Manhattan," says Kari Browne, 33, a former broadcast news producer who last month opened a cafe in the up-and-coming Victorian neighborhood of Ditmas Park. "They want to come to Brooklyn."
Um, the Lark Cafe is on Church Avenue, the northern border of the very up-and-came Prospect Park South, which is part of a larger neighborhood, at least to real estate agents, known as Ditmas Park. The Lark is next to a new Thai restaurant. Every other retail outlet on the Church Avenue strip serves the large population that would not be considered gentrifiers.



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